“Immigrants need to know the rules of this land.” “They need to know that Canadians do not tolerate violence against women.” “They need to know about hygiene.” “They need to know that you do not wear flip-flops in a land that gets 100 cms. of snow.”
These were some of the comments heard at a workshop titled “Understanding Life in Canada: Giving Newcomers the right playbook information and orientation” at the 15th Metropolis Conference themed “Building an Integrated Society,” taking place in Ottawa, March 14th to 16th, 2013.
The discussion panel included Cedric de Chardon, Manager of Information and Orientation policies for Citizenship and Immigration Canada; Dr Vicky Esses, Director of the Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations; Din Ladak, CEO of the Immigrant Services Calgary, and Loris Berrigan, Manager of Settlement Services Association of New Canadians (Newfoundland).
My interest in this workshop was more than an academic one. As a newcomer, I have relied on information available both in print and on websites to shape my decisions on life in Canada. I have felt frustrated at the shallowness of some of this well-meant advice.
All levels of government in Canada — federal, provincial and increasingly municipal — are spending millions to dole out information so that newcomers have the tools to navigate life in Canada. In addition to targeting immigrants that are already here, the federal government is targeting the pre-immigrant population in their home countries with information on what to expect in Canada and the best ways to get credentials recognized and find employment.
Although reading these handouts do not readily give that impression, the government does consult immigrants on input. The panel discussed the Alberta Settlement Outcomes Survey which did a survey among 1,000 immigrants in Alberta on what they felt should be included in the handouts.
This survey showed that the top three sources of information for immigrants are immigrant serving agency portals, government websites and other online sources. Print and library materials figured low down on the list. The point made was that immigrants and refugees are highly knowledgeable about navigating the Web to get the information that they are looking for.
The survey also threw light on the kind of information that immigrants would like to receive before they arrived in Canada — important documents needed, the steps they need to take after landing, where to obtain settlement information, etc.
With so much information aimed at immigrants, the most logical question to ask the panel was, “Are you employing immigrant writers and journalists to write the content? Who is better than an ethnic writer, highly fluent in one or both of the official languages, to understand the language, tone and information that other immigrants are looking for?”
Of course, there was no answer. — New Canadian Media